Archive for the ‘Blindness’ Category

Reid My Mind Radio – Let’s Play Ball… Beep Baseball!

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

A collage including the cover of the book Beep: Inside the world... plus photos of a Beep player hitting & another photo of someone catching a ground ball.
For many, the idea of people who are blind or visually impaired playing baseball seems farfetched.

Today, we take a look at the adapted sport through a new book on the subject; Beep Baseball: Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind. I speak with the author David Wanczyk, some players and learn about the National Beep Baseball Association World Series coming up later this month.

If you like what you hear, help spread the word about Beep and RMM Radio by sharing this episode and subscribing to the podcast.

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Transcript

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TR:

Whats up Reid My Mind Radio family.

I hope your summer is going well.

Summer seems like the best time to make great memories. I know I have many that involve swimming pools, beaches, boardwalks.

If this is your first time listening to Reid My Mind Radio welcome. I’m your host TReid.
If you’re a returning listener welcome back.

Usually I bring you a story or an interview or profile of someone impacted by vision loss or disability or sometimes it’s just one of my personal experiences hopefully told in an interesting way.

Today’s piece is summer related… baseball. You know hot dogs, cracker jacks, beer oh my!

But first, hit me with the intro music!

Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

Beep baseball sound

Chances are most people wouldn’t associate the sport of baseball
with people who are blind or visually impaired.

Since 1976, the National Beep Baseball Association (NBBA) has been working hard to change this.

The new book titled Beep: Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind is contributing to the effort.

I spoke with the author David Wanczyk about the game, his reason for writing the book and more.

There’s lots for those familiar with baseball to recognize when watching Beep Baseball for the first time.

This adapted version of baseball also called Beep Ball or sometimes just beep is similarly played on a grassy field set in a diamond shape. While we’re used to three bases in addition to home plate…

DW:
There is no second base.

TR:
That’s author David Wanczyk telling us more about the game.

The bases positioned at first and third are blue , about 5 feet tall .

They’re equipped with foam interior with the electronics that cause it to buzz serving as a beacon for the batters.

When a pitch is thrown, an umpire flips a switch which activates one of the bases. If the ball is hit the batter needs to run to the buzzing base before the ball is fielded in order to score a run.

DW:
There’s no, like, outfield fence. In most tournaments there’s an 170 foot line. You know, where like a softball fence would be. If you hit it beyond that line it’s a home run. I have never seen a homerun so it’s a very heavy ball. It’s pretty hard to make really really great contact because you got to be really insync with the pitcher in order to do that. And you know in the time that I was paying attention to beep ball I think there was one home run.

TR:

You may have caught one of the other big differences between the two versions of baseball…
In Beep, the pitcher and batter work closely together. In fact there on the same team.
The pitcher who is usually sighted, is trying to release and position the ball where the batter will make contact.
The better synchronization between the two teammates, the more likely the ball is hit.

DW:
There are also two sighted people on the field helping the fielders. What they can do is once the balls hit they can shout “four” and that means it’s coming to the left side of the field. The quickness of that call combined with the strength of the fielder’s ear is what kind of makes the fielding possible.
If the team is really advanced, so for instance Boston Renegades they finished second a couple years ago and they’re very organized team. One of their spotters, will call out something like *exaggerated* “threeeee,” right? And the idea that I can say one word but if I can say it in a long gated way I’m giving a little bit more information to my fielder. “It’s really a short ball it’s in the number three zone but it’s short so charge it!” Or you know *short* “four,” right, in that you hear the abruptness and that means it’s a line drive it’s coming right at you you better cover your face, right, there or cover your most sensitive parts. And that happens that happens for everyone talks about it so. I actually got hit in the nose when I was playing, luckily, it didn’t have too much injury and made the play.
On that note it is a dangerous and pretty exciting game and there are measures for safety, of course. People feel a lot of excitement playing and they should, you know, there’s a lot of diving, a lot of sprinting. A lot of players told me it was among their first chances to feel that kind of energized exercise.
Depending on your exercise regime kind of off the field maybe you’re jogging maybe you have a stationary bike whatever it is that they’re feeling like this there’s a freedom. And the people feel that a lot of a lot of the players don’t have otherwise and that was it was good to us to learn about.

TR:

That’s just one reason both men and women from
different communities with varying degrees of vision loss enjoy the sport.

Like Tanner Gers Executive Director of the accessibility non profit My Blind Spot.

Gers lost his sight after being impaled by a tree during an auto accident.

He recalls first learning about Beep.

TG:
I was just going about my life you know just doing the best I can to create something of meaning something I could be proud of. And I was going to school full time and working full time.

TR:
Returning home at the end of the night following a day of both school and work Tanner caught the end of the sports segment of his local nightly news.

TG:
The reporter comes on and says “now here’s a team who doesn’t let anything come between them and the game they love to play” I’ll never forget. It went out the very next week and I started playing and the rest is history.
TR:

Prior to losing his sight , Tanner had been An athlete all of his life,
and just assumed he would never have that opportunity again.

In 2008, four years after the accident, he began playing in the NBBA.

Currently living in Arizona, he’s playing on his third team, the Indy Edge out of Indianapolis Indiana.

TG:
When I lost my sight and I began meeting blind people and becoming introduced to the resources I realized that I can still do something with myself. I already had my motivational pilot light lit but beep baseball just threw like gas, gasoline, right on top of it.
Because of my success in beep baseball a local adaptive sports coach you know introduced into the Paralympics and I didn’t know what that was either. Very fortunate to have represented Team USA in a three big international events.
Being in that community opened up my mind to all different types of disabilities and people who were crushing in their lives both in sports and outside of it. And then it just introduced me to a lot of leaders in the blindness community. That led me to speaking professionally and to the career that I’m in now.

TR:

For some involved in the sport, it’s more about the game itself. Like the NBBA league secretary, captain of the Minnesota Millers and owner and operator of Guerra Access Technology Training, Stephen Guerra.

Currently living in Rochester Minnesota, Guerra is originally from Long Island New York where he grew up listening to Yankee games.

During a surgery to remove congenital cataracts when he was about 5 years old, Stephen was left totally blind resulting from what he describes as …
SG:
I’ll use the legal term of deviation of standard procedure. I grew up knowing nothing about sight I learned by sound, I learned by tactile. I’m a long time baseball fan. I remember growing up and listen to the New York Yankee games I created a baseball field as of Lego. So I took a Lego sheet and I created what I thought a baseball diamond would look like. There was first, second base, there was a pitcher’s mound, home plate and of course the outfield wall because that’s where all the home runs went. So I taught myself how to play baseball how I saw it. Which was really not far off the way the game of baseball went and that’s just what I did to pass time you know as a six, seven year old kid. My parents did everything they could to get me a electronic games of those days like ColecoVision Head to Head Baseball. I mean it’s a it’s a totally visual game but they they saw where it was something that I could do without sight.

In 1988 Stephen began playing the sport. In the mid 90’s he wanted to elevate his own game.
SG:
I went and spoke to a couple friends, I created with them the Long Island Bombers. We played together for a couple of years and we went to the World Series for the first time in 2002 as a team.
TR:

Jamie Simpson, Supervisor of Admissions and Counseling at the Chris Cole Rehabilitation Center in Austin Texas was Active in sports like Goal Ball & track as a teen.

Introduced to the game by her boyfriend, now husband, Wayne Simpson a fellow member of the Austin BlackHawks featured in the book, Jamie recalls her initial reaction to Beep Baseball.

JS:
I was ready to go I love sports I love being outside. I have Retinitis Pigmentosa which is degenerative eye disease. So I had some useable vision up until I was about twelve. So you know when you’re out like P.E. you’re just playing with kids. We would play schoolyard baseball or whatever and I could maybe run the bases but I could never see the ball and so playing in some form of baseball, softball was something that you know I’d always really wanted to do. To be able to find a sport that allowed that, even being slightly modified it’s still a very competitive game it’s still the same concept. And I think that’s why when I saw it actually being played for the first time I was like “oh yeah I could do this.”
TR:
That’s right, women and men play this sport side by side.

Taking a break from Beep during the early 2000’s to raise her children, Jamie is back in the game and working to make sure other women are informed about the sport.
JS:
I’m a member of the NBBA Board and I’m also a member of the WOOL, Women of Our League, committee. Kind of like the governing committee of women of our league we just try to make sure that we’re getting information out to any of the women who are interested in playing with us. Trying to grow the sport for women that’s kind of our big mission right now is to really get women involved and promoting beep baseball at the same time. Basically the women of our league it’s one game that we play at the World Series that consists of obviously nothing but women and we have the Southwest bombshells which I’m a player on the team and then there’s a north east dynamic divas. We play one game this year it’s going to be held on Wednesday at the World Series. In hopes that we can get more people to come out and support here on and be spectators. We have a new T. shirt that was just designed. So we’re hoping to sell some T. shirts to raise money. Just to help us with growing more and being able to buy our own balls for practice and that sort of thing and contribute a little to NBBA in whatever way that we can.

TR:
Whatever the reason for getting involved in the sport,
Author David Wanczyk says it’s about fun.
DW:
The fun’s different for different people. Some people are taking it extremely seriously. For some people it’s a reunion and for a lot it’s in between. I want to win this game hard but I’m going to also reconnect with all these all these friends from all over the country and everything.

TR:
Beep Baseball is a sport. Players and spectators alike should expect what comes along with that.

Like Competition

DW:
Tempers get high sometimes, yeah. It can get heated but I think for the most part for the love of the game.

TR:
And you can’t really have a team without the good old fashioned pranks.

DW:
What’s a kind word I can say on the radio? Give and take, I guess?

TR in conversation with DW:
[Laughs] You can say whatever you want to say.

DW:
[Laughs] Yeah, some ballbusting I guess I could say. I love to see that too. When you grow up playing baseball that’s obviously part of the heart of the game whether it’s your you know your teammate giving you a cup check or. You know pranks or nicknames or whatever that’s all there. You know especially with the Austin Blackhawks. So they are one of the strongest teams that won a number of championships in recent years.

TR:
A member of the BlackHawks, Jamie Simpson tells us first hand about her experience.
JS:
We were in the World Series tournament in ‘99. I probably in my mind a little bit thought it wouldn’t happen to me just because I was married to Wayne and he was team captain and all that right. So of course he goes out to go to a room where all the guys are gathering and I’m like well I’m going to hang back for a minute and get everything settled when of course the phone rings and these bulls had already put toothpaste on the phone receiver. [Laughs] So you put the phone to your ear and you get an ear full of toothpaste. So I’m like OK you guys suck and you know I hang up and I’m like you know cussing them and whatever. I’m cleaning up or whatever and then the stupid phone rings again so I’m thinking I’m being smart and I’m going to go for the other phone that’s in the room because the one’s already full with toothpaste and they had put toothpaste on the other damn phone too!

TR:
Some aspects of Beep may not be recognizable to those that are accustomed to being a part of the majority.

DW:
One player told me it’s the one chance that we get to be in the majority. You know there are four hundred people in the hotel and if you go to the bar at night it’s predominantly this group. One of the things I said, and I’m not sure I’m right about this and I did my best to be kind of humble about any sort of you know judgment I was offering, but it occurred to me that in most situations there was probably a kind of brotherhood of blindness in this case it was like “well we’re all blind, let’s fight” or “let’s be competitive!” And we can kind of we can kind of do this on a level playing field here and have a good time with it.

TR in conversation with DW:
Yeah, I think you see that sort of comradery in other activities. I’ve been
Involved in some blind avocadcy stuff. You know, similar thing, you have about 150 people at an hotel and we kind of take over and it’s kind of cool. It’s the one weekend where everything is really accesible because we make it that way.

TR :
Beep: Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind like the sport itself is about the people who participate. The men and women who were either born with some degree of vision loss or for various reasons lost the ability to see later in life.

It’s also full of the drama that is competitive sports.

DW:
There was an international rivalry that I thought was incredible and it was this Taiwan home run team versus the Austin Blackhawks. Austin had taught the Taiwanese team how to play about fifteen years prior and over the course of that time Taiwan had become kind of a juggernaut. And so there was this like brotherly relationship that was you know sometimes you just want to kick your brother in the shins, right?
So I thought wow here’s teams that got very different personalities, they’ve got very different backgrounds. This seems like a story that I want to tell. You know it’s about on one side it’s kind of a balls to the wall approach, pranking approach. On the other side, Taiwan, there’s a seriousness, great sense of humor over there too, but a seriousness and a kind of mental preparation. These cultures could meet on the field and we saw what happened and hopefully people will hear what happened in the book.

TR in conversation with DW:
So why were you interested in writing this book? Do you have any relationships to blindness?

DW:
Great question. So I was in writing school for a long time. Kind of writing various things and got out and graduated in 2010. And kind of decided that for a while I was going to write about sports. I wrote about something called 24 hour bike racing, something called Wife Carrying and realize…

TR in conversation with DW:
Wait wait wait wait wait… Wife Carrying? [Laughs]

DW:
Yeah so there’s a there’s a sport where you know you throw a throw your wife over your shoulder and with the Estonian carry, you hold by the ankles, And the woman is kind of behind you and you have to do an obstacle course. I finished thirty eighth in the nationals and I believe in 2011. I fell twice one one embarrassing right at the very end but I did finish it.
The idea was you know maybe participate in some of the sports people haven’t really heard of trying to see what the culture is. February 2012 or so there was a magazine article about beep ball but it wasn’t really about beep ball it just listed the rules and I realized it listed the rules straight from the website. It was like, you know, almost like “hey look at this” sort of “isn’t this odd” or “isn’t this kind of curious” sort of thing. Rather than, “hey, you know, what might this actually be about?” “Who are the people who who are involved in this?”
So I went out to the World Series that year and wrote an article. And then about a year later I had a daughter, my first daughter and my first child. And you know I had been busy and hadn’t been writing and kind of had a moment where I thought “I love writing, I want to want to write a story, I want to be involved in telling a story.” I kind of had a moment where I thought “I think I think that’s the story I’m invested in. I love baseball.”
I don’t have a connection to blindness personally but it’s something that I did feel like I could become very invested in. So for the next from 2013, ‘14, and into ‘15 I would spend a good part of every day usually try to do about a half an hour at least either interviewing someone or trying to compose a book. And got there it was just kind of one look and then realizing this is an intense sport and you know I can know more about this.

TR:

Fortunately, Wanczyk clearly didn’t see this project as a novelty.
There’s evidence in the small details included in the book that reveal a respect for the game and more importantly for the people who participate.

TR in conversation with DW:
Since this was your introduction to blindness, give me a couple of things you took away from it, what did you learn?

DW:
Of course I’m reluctant to make kind of blanket statements. But what I would say is, at least among this group, that I got to know there was like a bravado that I would maybe not have expected. You know that’s different from bravery I mean even reluctant to say bravery because I think sometimes when sighted people say that it might have a little bit of condescension. You know, I read one book that said you know, “I’m not brave I get up and I live my life just like you.”
And so but bravado I think is right, that this kind of storytelling panache among a lot of the players and the kind of joking spirit, the suspicion of sympathy because you know I accept your compassion and your help but I also don’t want to be limited by what you think of me. And that was instrumental to see.
The teamwork is really something to watch in beep ball. I can’t get out of my mind this image from 2012 where a diving play was made and then the third baseman and the left fielder high five and then their high five kind of turn into a “we’ve got to get back in position.”
Another image would be the kind of train onto the field not all teams do this but quite a few teams will line up and and be a six player train out on the field.
A lot of partying. And if I had asked myself “hey do blind guys party?” before I started. I’d say “well, of course they party.” But it’s different to then kind of be in the party and kind of feel what that’s all about. And yeah I had some of my best times with some of these guys to tell you the truth and kind of some of my wilder times.

TR in conversation with DW:
SO you’ve been to the bar with them? [Laughs]

DW:
[Laughs] I’ve been to the bar! Yes, oh lord I have.

TR:

Beginning July 29 through August 5, the National Beep Baseball Association will hold the World Series of Beep Baseball in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

NBBA Secretary Stephen Guerra tells us more.

SG:
The World Series is held each year in a different city and it’s a coming together of all the teams. And at this point for 2018 we have twenty three teams coming to this year’s World Series. And we have teams coming from Taiwan, the Taiwan Lightning. We have a team coming from Canada the Toronto blind jays and then twenty one other teams from around the United States. The most teams we’ve had was twenty four which was in Rochester New York 2015. The last couple years we’ve hovered between twenty and twenty four teams and we only anticipate that we are going to get bigger.
TR:
The NBBA continues to expand the sport around the world. All of those I spoke with are looking forward to more international representation during future World Series events.

Several people mentioned a desire to see beep as a part of the Paralympics.

Finally, Tanner Gers has this to say about how listeners can be a part of the game.
TG:
There’s a way for you to support somebody playing beep baseball. Whether through donations or you showing up and volunteering your time. Please come and see a VERY MUCH higher action game then you could ever imagine when you think of baseball. Because when blind people play baseball things get wild.

TR in conversation with TG:
Is that the tag line for the association [Laughs].

TG:
[Laughs]

TR:
For more information about Beep Baseball checkout the NBBA website at NBBA.org.

And of course don’t forget to pick up the book:
Beep: Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind from Amazon.com.
It’s available in print, EBook and as an audiobook from Audible.com

I’m Thomas Reid
For Gatewave Radio

DW:
Well we’re all blind, let’s fight! Or let’s be competitive. We can kind of do this on a level playing field here and have a good time with it.

Audio for Independent Living

TR:

That’s really just an introduction to the sport of Beep Baseball.
The game sounds pretty intense. Understand this, line drives are being hit and fielded.
There was an incident captured in the book where a young lady from Taiwan was pitching to a batter, who happened to be her boyfriend, and he hit a line drive right back at her face. Fortunately, she was okay. I’m pretty certain that was probably the end of their relationship.
Seriously, share this Podcast and spread Beep Baseball. Lets do what we can to help spread Beep Baseball. I truly need to get out give it a shot.

I hear there is a league in the Dominican Republic. If anyone out there hears this please feel free to fly me out for an event. Let’s say anytime in January or February. I’ll stay as long as required… like the winter?

Ok, it’s summer right now, no need to think about Winter. So much to look forward to right here right now. Like subscribing to this podcast.
You can do that on just about any podcast app. We’re on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Soundcloud, Stitcher and Tune In Radio. Of course you can go over to Reid My Mind.com. Remember that’s REID like my last name.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @tsreid and don’t forget to check out the other podcast I do with Doctor Dre – the one from Yo MTV Raps. It’s called 2BlindMics. If you are remotely interested in Rap music or Hip Hop culture, we have some goodies over there. Like interviews with some legendary DJ’s including Red Alert, Kid Capri, DJ Scratch and DJ Chuck Chillout. It’s a podcast but to me they sound like mini documentaries. It’s not just Hip Hop so check it out, there may be something there for you.

Now lets get back to summer…

peace!

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Reid My Mind Radio: On Music & Identity with Graham Norwood

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

Full body picture of Graham in all denim in front of a brown wooden background with a white framed door.
“It’s been a long time coming…” and we’re finally here. Back with another episode and finally bringing you a request from a listener. NYC based Musician Graham Norwood spoke with me about his music, the process of becoming a part of the disability community and more. Plus hear some samples of his music and become a fan!

Resources

Transcript

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TR:
Hello RMM Radio family.
I hope you all are doing well.
And I mean that with real sincerity.
I honestly miss you!
Before we get into this week’s episode I feel as though I should apologize. I’m truly committed to producing this show so when things get
reprioritized in my life I still want to make it happen.
Missing the last installment really bothered me but we’re back today with a new episode and a special one at that.
This one itself is long over do
Last year I received a request from a listener of RMM Radio asking me to interview a musician she followed on Instagram.
I know, it sounds like I am a private investigator for hire minus the fees. Actually, I think it’s pretty cool. She wanted to know more about this person and thought he would be a good fit for the podcast. She was correct and for that I send a sincere thanks.
It took some time for he and I to find some common ground in our schedules, but because it was a request, I couldn’t drop the ball on this one.
So here we go.
Audio: RMMRadio Intro
TR:
You’re listening to Graham Norwood, a New York City based musician.
He currently also serves as the Director of Foundations and
Corporate Relations for the Partnership for the Homeless a
New York City based nonprofit.
GN: I grew up a town called San Mateo which is about twenty miles south of San Francisco. I have a condition called L.C.A. Labor’s congenital amaurosis which is similar to R.P. Actually I thought I had R.P. my whole life until I had genetic testing a couple years ago and they said it was actually L.C.A.
TR:
LCA or Leber’s congenital amaurosis
has similarities to RP or retinitis pigmentosa and many
eye doctors consider it to be an early-onset form of RP.
Just like RP or retinitis pigmentosa,
LCA is a slowly progressive condition that
also has several forms, each with
different genetic causes.
As Graham experienced this all of his life it was his normal.
GN:
I honestly didn’t give it that much thought. All the schools I went to really kind of were willing to provide whatever accommodations were necessary but I don’t know I didn’t really need a ton of accommodations. Growing up my sight was a little bit better. I was able to kind of follow along okay, so wasn’t it wasn’t that big of a deal.
TR:
Music came pretty natural to Graham.
Starting with the piano around 7 or 8 years old, moving on to the guitar at 10.
He later realized he could sing and since then music was a central part of his life.
GN:
Music is kind of like a level playing field where whether you can see or not is pretty irrelevant. If you sound good then it’s not that big of a deal. I don’t think I was ever consciously aware of that but you know looking back that’s very true. I think I was able to meet and play with a lot of you know really pro level musicians and they were very accepting of me there was never any sort of like “well you’re blind you can’t do this.” That’s not always the case, I mean, there are certain professions in careers where even if you maybe do have a work around and people are still kind of suspicious and the joblessness rate in the blind and low vision community is seventy percent. It’s very hard for people with low vision to build careers for themselves and they deal with a lot of prejudice even just sort of unconscious bias they really don’t have a sense of what the technological adaptations are how people go about their lives they try to empathize and try to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. But if you don’t have the experience of being blind and figuring out the work arounds and having a good problem solving skills then you have you know your first thought is like “oh my God if I couldn’t see I couldn’t do anything.” So they don’t realize how adaptable people are and how they come up with ways to get around all that stuff and be successful in spite of the little vision
TR in conversation with GN:
Do you find that that was in all aspects of music? So do you get involved in the recording side of it as well?
GN:
You know, I honestly don’t really I’ve never really been that good with kind of recording myself. Certain programs like Reaper, an audio software program that’s pretty good and pretty accessible for low vision people, but I’ve honestly never gotten too far down that road I’ve always worked with other engineers. I really like the kind of studio atmosphere being able to focus in on the performance and having somebody else kind of worry about the engineering side of it.
TR in conversation with GN:
I am recording you through Reaper right now. (laughs)
GN:
(Laughs) Right on! Yeah it’s cool I just spent six months at Colorado Center for the blind and they showed me a little bit of how to use Reaper. And yeah it was cool. I did a little bit of recording on that it’s a pretty cool program.
TR:
The Colorado Center for the Blind is located south of Denver.
Taken from their website;
the center provides innovative teaching techniques and philosophy
that continues to have Far-reaching effects on
the lives of blind people, taking them to new heights of independence.
I was a little surprised to hear that he just returned from the center since he has experienced vision loss his entire life.
His explanation made total sense and gives a bit of insight into his character.
What sounds like the type of guy who will fix a perceived flaw.
GN:
There were certain things that I didn’t really learn when I was growing up. My domestic skills were pretty limited. I didn’t really know how to cook I didn’t really learn that much about like how to clean you know keep an apartment clean and things like that. I got to a point where I really wanted to learn those things. Colorado school teaches that stuff they also teach Braille, they teach mobility assistive technology. Some stuff I found more immediately useful than other things. I mean, I’ve had a cane training, I’m pretty mobile so the mobility stuff I felt like I had a pretty good handle on. Certainly, the home management stuff was really helpful to me and you know has made a pretty big difference.
TR in conversation with GN:
Did you have a lot of contact with other people who are visually growing up?
GN:
No I didn’t at all. That’s a good question because that was actually the thing I think that was most beneficial to me or made of the biggest impression when I did finally get the Colorado school. It was the first time really that I had been around a lot of other blind and vision people. It’s really only been in the last maybe five years maybe not even maybe four years, that I’ve kind of become much more involved and aware of that blind and low vision community and also the larger kind of people with disabilities community. When I was going up I was the only blind person I knew. I think in a lot of ways it was it was great for me in the sense of I never really thought of myself in those terms and I kind of when I would come to a situation where it would be harder for me to do something than a sighted person I would just sort of figure it out. I didn’t put any barriers or restrictions on myself in terms of what I could do. But I think what I didn’t get was it was the vision thing was something that I always kind of marginalised and I never really embraced it as a part of who I was. At the end of the day it’s a pretty big thing. It’s certainly not what defines me but it’s definitely a significant piece of that identity. And so I met some people maybe starting four or five years ago I started working as a grant writer at The National Organization on Disability and getting more and more interested in the sort of employment issues for people with disabilities. I met a few pretty cool blind people and the best advice I got actually was that you know you got to meet other cool blind people and you know see these other blind people that are doing really interesting stuff. So I found that very inspiring to start meeting other people in the community.
TR:
And that’s exactly what he did.
By volunteering with Team Sea to See.
GN:
S E A to S E E. It’s for kind of very successful business people who are also blind who are athletes and they’re taking part in this crazy bike race. Basically the world’s toughest bike race for blind people and then for sighted people riding tandems coast to coast in nine days. I’ve been helping them with fundraising we got funding from Google and the American Foundation for the Blind. Gatorades helping us out and some other pretty cool sponsors. And it’s basically to raise awareness of this godlessness issue. That’s kind of indicative of my transition over the past few years to really feeling more a part of the blind and low vision and people with disabilities community and wanting to be more involved in that. I think the biggest issue that people have, people with disabilities have, in a lot of ways is visibility and just getting out there. I don’t think people without disability see enough of that. One in six Americans has a disability I think something like one to two percent of the population this is low vision. It’s not like one in fifty people that you know are blind that’s not true for most of the population. People just don’t have a sense of how blind and low vision people or people with other disabilities can really thrive and succeed in and do amazing stuff. I’m much more aware of this idea now and I’m wanting to get the word out and just wanting to live my life in public as a low vision person so that other people can kind of be aware of you know the fact that they we’re out there and we’re doing awesome stuff and people can just sort of revise what they think is possible for people with disabilities.
TR in conversation with GN:
Was there any one thing that made you go that way? Was there something that occurred in your own experience?
GN:
I don’t think strictly so. I had a long term relationship and I think on a very practical level I went from living with this person for eight years to suddenly living on my own again for the first time in a long time. And I think you know on a very practical level that was a wake up call in terms of like the things that I took for granted that this woman helped me out with suddenly I had to do myself. Honestly, it was just maturing a little bit and realizing that I had been marginalizing this big component of my identity because I was so I was so paranoid of the idea that someone would just label me as like “oh the blind guy” you know and I never wanted to be that I wanted people to think of me more broadly and see the whole person as opposed to just the disability. That was something that I intuitively felt even from a very young age and so I just never wanted to make a big deal out of it and never want to be engaged with it and as I got a little bit older I think I realised that, I understood why I did it and I see you know the motivation behind feeling that way but ultimately I thought “this is kind of silly.” I need to own this more and be proud of who I am and you know not ignore this one thing but really embrace it and turn it into a positive. In addition to starting to work for the National Organization of Disability I went to National Federation of the blind, a national convention in Florida one year. I don’t know if you’ve ever been it was like completely overwhelming to me it was like twenty five hundred blind people in a convention center just like absolute chaos you know people like crashing into each other and just like (laughs). It was it was so overwhelming when I first got there. But then it really struck me because it was basically just a bunch of people who were like “you know what screw it like I this is who I am and this is this is how I get around and this is the way I live my life.” I hope this doesn’t come across the wrong way but one of the takeaways for me was you know blindness isn’t always elegant, right? Like you use a cane to feel what’s in front of you and you know sometimes you whack a trash can and it’s like super loud. But that’s what the cane supposed to do and that’s how you get around and it may not be the most aesthetically beautiful way but it’s how we operate. I think I also felt like maybe I had been I had been trying to minimize those kinds of situations but I was going to such great lengths to not have those situations that I wasn’t authentically being myself and you know being just a person with a visual impairment who is out in the world and being independent and so that was my other, I think, turning point was seeing so many other blind people just living their lives and doing their thing and and being proud of it and not ashamed of it. So that was another thing that happened around the time that I started working for a National Organization of Disability that just made me realize you know this is how it is and there’s nothing to be ashamed of there’s nothing to avoid. I came away thinking this is a really beautiful thing that I haven’t been authentic and I haven’t been embracing and I want to start being more more real about being a person with a visual impairment. I don’t think there was any real like turning point that brought me to that it was it was a slow process and I really kind of started by like dipping my toe in the water and starting to reach out individually do a couple in the vision people and then it built from there. Then you know I had these these moments where I was like oh I get this now and I want to be more apart of this.
TR in conversation with GN:
I know I met so many people with low vision who straddle that line. And I’m not saying that they need to make a decision and go one way but it sounds like what you chose was the best for you to continue on and be your authentic self and sometimes I don’t think that people necessarily make that their choice I don’t think they’re being really authentic. And you know I’m trying not to judge necessarily but I’m also just saying like I see them that they’re not doing everything that they can and they’re hoping they holding on are grasping on to something. Do you understand what I’m saying?
GN: Oh absolutely and it’s hard because especially you know like I said I was born and grew up with this. And I think it’s probably really hard if somebody has you know normal or relatively normal vision and then they have to navigate that transition. Because you know let’s face it there’s a lot of stigmatization out there and you don’t necessarily want to suddenly identify as being a, well I avoid the term disabled person I was always say person with a disability because like smoke alarms get disabled and people are still people whether they have a disability or not. But yeah I mean you know I think I’ll always probably straddle that line. But the important thing for me was was the realization that I could exist on both sides of it and I didn’t have to make a choice and when I want to I’m fully qualified to be part of the blind and low vision community and there’s nothing wrong with that and people except me there and I didn’t know if they would it and then I realize that they totally do. And if I want to just hang out with all of my sighted friends and I don’t want to talk about or think about blindness I can do that too. For the longest time I felt like I didn’t belong in either world and then eventually I realized that I belonged in both.
TR:
It’s pretty obvious that raising awareness of blindness and disability issues is a high priority for Graham. I can respect that.
Learning to self-identify as a person with a disability is a process.
It begins with real self-examination and truthfulness.
Based on those I have spoken to who have gone through the process, it appears it leads to a greater level of comfort in one’s own skin.
In a way, Graham’s relationship with music is mirroring his life.
He traditionally played a more supportive role as a musician.
Playing in bands and producing records for others.
He’s currently working on his own album and he hopes will
get picked up by a label and released later this year.
You can learn more about his upcoming album, show dates and more.
GN:
My website is just my name Graham Norwood Music dot com (spells out grahamnorwood.com ). Custom tracks up on there I put my upcoming gigs on there know we will be putting up some announcements about the album when it comes out later this year people can email me through that and that’s that’s probably the best way.
TR:
Producing this episode probably began sometime last summer. It took some time to actually reach Graham, then scheduling problems, then my back issues and more recently my other commitments.
With certain people I interview, I can’t help but think how effective it would be to have the opportunity to really hang out with the person and observe them in their environment.
I suspect I would have seen relationships between his day job,
his self-discovery and acceptance of his identity as a person with vision loss and his music of course.
I couldn’t help but hear some of my own story in Graham’s.
I always mention the impact attending the state conference of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind had on my life.
While it wasn’t as large as the national conferences and conventions it was impactful.
Meeting the cool blind people who were living productive lives.
Observing their level of comfort in their own skin made me know it was possible that I too could attain that.
I’m reminded of hearing about these cool blind people from
prior guests on Reid My Mind Radio including Josh Miele, Chancey Fleet and more.
I know Using my white cane to navigate effectively may not look very smooth at times.
Occasionally, I might mess up but that’s ok. I get better. Most importantly I’m better at accepting when I get a bit thrown off.
Like I did with this podcast.
Just to let you know I have some episodes coming up in the next few weeks so please stay tuned.
Remember, 2BlindMics; the number 2 capital B, lind capital M, ics.
This is the show I co-host with my podcast partner Doctor Dre. It’s right down the block on your local podcast app. Give it a listen and feel free to let me know what you think good or bad. I’m interested in hearing from the RMMRadio listeners. We have a lot of interviews with some of the rap artists and others involved in the Yo MTV Raps experience.
I really do appreciate feedback. it’s the only real way to improve…
Even if it’s something I disagree with, I can decide to not do anything about it but at least I was informed.
Sort of like Graham making the decision to go to the Colorado center to improve his own skills. You have to respect that. We’re supposed to fix our flaws and become the best person we can be.
You can do the same by subscribing to this podcast – Reid My Mind Radio – remember that’s R E I D.
It’s available just about wherever you get podcasts plus Sound Cloud, Stitcher and Tune In Radio.
And I plan to talk to you soon!
Peace!
Audio: Graham:
Whether you can see or not is pretty irrelevant, if you sound good it’s not that big of a deal.

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Reid My Mind Radio – Tony the Traveller

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

Yes, I spelled travel with two l’s – he’s British.
Tony at the top of Marble Street, Ephasus, Turkey, September 2009

Salto Hacha waterfall, Canaima National Park, Venezuela, November 2012

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tony in a small local boat, floating market in Banjarmasin, capital of South Kalimantan, Indonesiam 2015
Tony Giles, the author of two books capturing his journeys, has visited 7 continents and continues to travel to cities and countries around the world – independently. As a person who is blind and has severe hearing loss, we learn how he began traveling alone, how his early education paved the way for his exploration along with several valuable take aways for anyone!

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Whats good RMM Radio.
I know you all are busy and I appreciate you taking the time to listen.

Reid My Mind Radio is actually a good companion on any journey so just take us along with you wherever you go.

I know it helps me along my journey.

So as my little girl used to say in our early recording days…

[Audio of my little girl Raven at 3 years old:]
“Let’s start the show. 1, 2, 3 4”

[Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music]

TR:

Tony Giles is the author of two books on traveling;
Seeing the World My Way…
and Seeing the America’s.

From South West England, Tony at 39 years old has visited all seven continents.

If your image of a travel writer consists of
fancy hotels, spas and restaurants, well allow me to present you with a new vision. Tony Giles travels with a back pack and sleeps in hostels But there’s more that sets him apart from the others.

TG:
I’m totally blind and severly deaf in both ears. I use a long cane and I wear digital hearing aids and I travel the world independently.

TR:

Tony was diagnosed with a rare eye condition at the age of 1. With extreme sensitivity to any light (in or out doors), it wasn’t until he was given dark glasses that he was able to play outside.

TG:

We lived in a coldesac so I always knew which way traffic was coming . I’d play with my friends, play football (soccer) run rode around on a big three wheeler bicycle and sort of crashed into walls and lamp posts.

TR:

At 5 years old, Tony began attending a school for children with disabilities located about 30 miles away from his home. In a way, you could say this was the precursor to his traveling life style.

TG:
I used to go there by taxi. I could read and write with very big black letters on white paper maybe 4 inches tall until about the age of 6 or 7. Then I began using something called a CC TV to try and make print bigger. Then it was realized that my sensitivity was lessening and I would stop looking for objects and wasn’t able to read and write.

TR:
By age 10 and a half Tony was enrolled in a specialized boarding school over 300 miles away from home.

TG:
And that’s sort of where my travels began. I wanted to see my family as much as possible. So beyond the age of 13 or 14 I was learning to catch buses, cross roads, catch trains (we tend to use the train to get everywhere in the UK).

[TR in conversation with TG]
Were your parents at all hesitant about you traveling?

TG:
I think they were but my Mom and my step Dad came up at parents evening so they knew what my mobility skills were like. I don’t think they were too worried.

How confident were you with your Orientation and Mobilityskills?

TG:
Supremely confident!

By the age of 16 or 17 I had fantastic mobility training. We start off with learning how to use a cane when I was 11 years old. I walked up and down this corridor for months with me teacher behind me yelling everytime I made a mistake.

TR:

Having the confidence to head out on his own, it was the opportunity to study in the United States that sparked Tony’s adventurous spirit.

TG:
I went to South Carolina, Myrtle Beach. In 2000. I said how are we going to study if you send us to a beach town. I spent 4 months there and spring break my friends decided they were going to Florida to see Mickey Mouse. They’re not going to let me drink or party and stuff so I go, I’ll go to New Orleans.

I got the teachers and staff to help me book a hostel and book a flight. I’ve been hosteling for about 5 or 6 years by then. I got to New Orleans and took a taxi to the hostel and then asked for directions and one of the staff in the hostel said you go down the steps turn left, walk two blocks and find the tram and go downtown. I walked down the steps and it was really hot and humid , about I don’t know 95 degrees and 98 percent humidity and I just froze. I’m in a foreign city in a foreign country by myself how am I going to find this tram. I don’t know what I’m doing.I took a few deep breaths and said well this is what you want Tony. If you don’t want it go back in the hostel and go home. So I turned left and walked down the street found the tram and I’ve been traveling for the last 20 years.
[TR in conversation with TG]
Do you recall what you considered to be the barrier there?

TG:
Just butterflies really.Insecurity in my own abilities really. Maybe just the culmination of the heat as well.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Laughs! The heat will do it to you.

TR:
That successful solo trip to New Orleans set the course for becoming a true world traveler.
Tony captures his experiences in his two books. The first of which is titled Seeing the World My Way.

[TR in conversation with TG]
In chapter 12 you wrote: “Towards the end of that trip recognition and self awareness began to dawn on me. I was beginning to realize my blindness was not a burden which stop me from accomplishing things, but an attribute which opened even more doors thanit closed.”

Can you talk a little bit about how was this actually so and what doors are you really referring to?

TG:
I began to realize by the end of that chapter thhat people liked me because of who I was not because I was disabled. So it wasn’t like “Oh we want to be with you to help you because we feel sorry for you. I was more like we like you as you are Tony and I also began to realize my blindness rather than stopping me from going somehwere or doing something it was actually an advantage. It meant I could jump lines or queues at airports I could alot of the time not have to pay for some things or pay less for things. later I discovered or I could go into national parks for free. It made somethings easier. Particularly airports because I could tget assistances and jump all the queues. The same on buses.

[TR in conversation with TG]
How important do you think is the attitude?

TG:
Once you sort of come to terms with your disability or realize your disability is there to stay it’s part of you . You can’t really don’t anything about that. If you can sort of embrace it and look at it positively, that will make life a lot easier both in terms of traveling, working or studying or whatever you want to do and also relationships. Then you can sort of put down that baggage and that apprehension or anger in my case and it makes things become a little less frustrating. Where its all about attitude and positive mindset.I meet so many sighted people and non disabled people on the street and their attitudes are negative or their lack of confidence is startling. For instance, when I was at University in the states, I think Imentioned this in me book, I was really surprised that my fellow students lacked confidence. The AAmericans I saw were all sort of noisey and confident and very brash, but the younger people my age, 19, 21, 22 they weren’t quite as confident. They were sort of afraid in class to ask questions and answer questions. Because I’ve been answering and asking questions ever since I was 10, 11 12 at school because obviously I couldn’t read the white board so that was my only option. But I think it’s an inner confidence that I have . I was given the mobility trainin. The teachers told me I would do things, I would go to these places, I would cross roads.

TR:

That confidence is a big part of Tony becoming known as the blind independent traveler.

TG:
Independence for me is being able to do things by oneself but it doesn’t mean doing it alone. Whether you’re blind or not, if you’re traveling you need help. Being independent means I’m in control of it I suppose.
TR:

Ocasionally circumstances that are out of his control may
require Tony to make adjustments, but he moves forward.

TG:
My hearing is more like someone losing their sight cause it can change all the time.If I get a cold or if it’s too windy that can affect my hearing. Too much traffic.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Does that impede your travel?

TG:
It can restrict it. Sometimes the hearing aids are dameged.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Out of all the places you visited, what’s the most inaccessible?

TG:
Georgia Armenia in terms of sort of language barrier, I don’t speak any Russian so places like that are difficult. In terms of infrastructure or lack of infrastructure parts of Africa, Burkina Faso, somewhere like that which is this third world country very ppor. Parts of Thailand, Bankok there’s open sewers and open drains so you could fall into a hole quite easily. Try and cross a road in Vietna. Five thousand bicycles all moving at once. Some times you get people that will try and stop you from doing things like I was in Barona with my girlfriend who is also blind. We wanted to visit this famous house, Romeo and Juliet house and one of the staff members wouldn’t let us go up the steps. They were worried about us going up steps, which is quite ridiculous. And in Sydney they wouldn’t let me climb the Sydney Bridge because they said well health and safety but really they thought I’d slow the other people down. But things like that… you get discriminated against.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Yeh, how do you deal with that?

TG:
Well you can try and state your case. Say I travel around the world, I’m completely independent I can do this this is not a problem, but some times if they’re really adament about sort of not letting you go like the Sydney Bridge I just well stop it. it’s their loss of money.

TR:
For some, the idea of a blind person traveling to different cities and countries doesn’t make sense.

[TR in conversation with TG]
What would you say to encourage those who feel that there’s no longer a benefit to traveling the world like you’ve you did. How can you convince them that traveling is more than “sight seeing” and I’m being literal with that word sight seeing.

TG:
Yeh! Well acountry is not just about seeing it with your eyes. It’s about experienceing with all your senses. You don’t go eat different foods with you eyes you go and taste it with you taste buds and smell it with your nose. When you’re walking down the steet or up a hill or walking through a forrest ok so you can be looking at that with your eyes … but really you should be taking it in with all your senses. The textyures under your feet, the changes in gradients when you’re walking up and down a hill. Gravel soil mud sand the texture of trees and plants. The space the change in atmosphere in a forrest or all these things sighted people probably only briefly notice and that gives us the blind person a more interesting picture I think.You’re not just going to a foreign country to look at the vistas really you’re going to meet the people. You don’t need to see to meet and talk to people. That’s what its really about. Without people there’s no traveling, there’s no point.

TR:

Reading his first book, Seeing the World My Way, it’s apparent Tony really is interested in getting to know the locals.
And the local bar was the perfect place to make friends.
Tony wasn’t shy about sharing his adventures.

[TR in conversation with TG]
The things that jumped out at me were you know, the brotherls. I was like woh!

TG:
Yeh, I was very frank. It was never my idea to write a book. I’ve been traveling 6 or 7 years by then. It was kind of like going to see a therapist but without paying. I’m able to sort of express myself on paper where I couldn’t express myself verbally to anyone. That’s just the way I’ve been brought up and stuff. I mean you should see the stuff that didn’t get put in the book. I felt at liberty to sort of be fairly open. And that’s the person I am, open and frank.

[TR in conversation with TG]
It goes hand in hand to me with your whole philosphy on travel… your freedom.

TG:
Yeh, and also it would help sell the book!

[TR in conversation with TG]
Laughs!

I want to talk about your choice in accomodations Tony. Reading your book I never really considered my self Bourgeois, (using slang version pronounced Boo- zhee) but I don’t know if I would stay at a hostel. {Laughs} The dormitory style. No, I would stay at the ones with the room. Ok, I would have a room but you stayed at some that are like dormitory style. Like you just grab a bunk? {Exhale as in huh!}

TG:
Just grab a bunk and even on one trip I was up in Minneapolis and I stayed with a friend and I had to catch a bus super early in the morning so I was thinking there’s no hostels near the bus station so someone said go over to this hostel across the street and it was literally just a matress on the floor.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Oh my gosh!

Are you sure that was a hostel or was that a homeless shelter.

TG:

{Laughs…}

Well, I don’t know what it’s like losing your sight as an older person. You might worry more about wwhat you can’t see but when you’re sort of young you don’t worry about it so much. You’re just meeting people. You talk to people that’s the key I think.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Yeh, Tony I’m not worried about that. If I had my sight I don’t think I would stay in the hostels, in the dormitory style… {Both TR and TG laugh…}]

TG:
Ah, then it’s just you then.

TR:
Again, I would get a room, I would do a hostel with a room, a nice clean room with a bed not just a mattress. Some blankets, nice pillows – fluffy pillows. {laughs}

TG:
Oh dear, you sound llike my girlfriend.

[TR in conversation with TG]

So how has that affected you in terms of traveling with your girlfriend? Are you still staying at the hostels?

TG:
We stay at hostels but we get a private room so we can be romantic and stuff. Yeh, she did have a couple of hostel experiences. We shared a dorm and luckily it was two other women so it wasn’t too bad.

TR:
Seeing the Americas, Tony’s second book is based on a trip he took in 2004.
He says it’s quite different from the first.

TG:
I started in Brazil and sort of wandered around South America for about three months and then worked my way across the middle of the states well down the east coast to start with and then crossed New Mexico and Texas and down into Mexico and Cuba and then back up through the states and eventually across Canada and Alaska. And that books a more sober reflection. I stopped drinking and I was dealing with sort of more emotional issues with relationships and stuff.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Outside of not sleeping in dormitory style hostels, how has traveling with your girlfriend changed or has it changed anything in terms of traveling?

TG:
We travel a little slower. We have to sort of plan things a bit more. Where as I can rush around and spend one night here and one night there my girlfriend doesn’t want to do that. She wants to spend 2 or 3 days in each place. I never unpack, she sort of moves in.
When I’m traveling with her I have responsibilities with someone else to worry about. When I’m by myself I don’t worry about anything at all. But it’s good though you have someone to share the experiences with and stuff. But the ultimate travel for me is when I’m by myself . You just meet more people when you’re by yourself. It’s good because there’s countries she doesn’t want to go to like Africa. She doesn’t like mosquitos and the heat and stuff so it works for the most part. I sort of have to promise I will Skype every day when I can let her know I’m safe. I get told if I haven’t emailed for three days. Where are you what are you doing who are you sleeping with…It was rough in the beginning because she didn’t sort of trust me. Relationships are about trust. Traveling is about trust. As a disabled person it’s about trust. You have to trust people to get money out of ATM machines when you’re traveling, trust that someones not going to get you run over when crossing the street and things like that. It’s easier for me because I learned to do that when i was young. That’s one of the hardest thigns for people losing their sight especially in older age is to trust people.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Yeh, expecially when you learned the opposite.

Let me ask you these final questions here and let you get on your way.

TG:
No worries, we can talk all night.

[TR in conversation with TG]
What have your travels taught you about humanity?

TG:

In general, most people are trying to survive, make ends meet, put a meal on the table for their family, roof over their head. Most people are kind and helpful if you take the time to interact with them. You’ll always get some people who are just out to gain something for nothing. The generosity and kindness that has been shown to me around the world is staggering. You couldn’t put a price on it. Sure I’ve been robbed had things stolen but that’s life it could happen anywhere. The positive outweigh the negatives ten to one. I’m totally blind I’m severly deaf and I should be vulnerable to every kind of negative thing that could happen to someone yet I never been shot or knifed or mugged. I met one guy who was shot. He was in a hotel in Mexico and just came down to reception to buy a drink or something and they were robbing the place and he got shot in the leg. I met one guy in Brazil, this was weird, they stole his back pack but left all the contents.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Must have had a lot of crap!

TG:
You go to Africa and you realize what life is really about. You think about something like water. We just turn the tap on and oh water, we don’t think about where it comes from. In villages in Africa, they walk 2 or 3 miles to collect water and bring it back and they can’t drop any. Things like that make you more humble and realize how lucky I am to live in a country with free health care etc.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Have you encountered other people with disabilities and what it’s like in various places.

TG:
Yeh a few. I met a young boy in Venezuela which is a very poor country.His parents had gotten him a little stick. He’s about 5 or 6 years old. They couldn’t believe it when they met me It just gives people hope. With a documentary which has been made by the BBC, more people say to me oh yeh my son’s got RP and reading your story and seeing you documentary makes me smileand they say yeh my kid can do whatever they want to. I met a lad in Kenya who 2 or 3 years old and his bones are deformed. And he met me, he doesn’t really like smiling at people. When he met me he just kept squeezingly me fondly and they said yeh, you’re making him smile.A guy in Brazil emailed me and asked me questions about traveling to Sweeden and italy… I said yeh come on you can do it. My aim is to inspire people to get off their bum and do what they want achieve their goal, lift their dreams. It can be done. It’s just fear that holds them back, lack of confidence. If you have the right planning, research and a little bit of help here and there then you can do anything you want. I’m not saying you have to travel around the world like I’ve done – that’s crazy. Maybe just walking down their own street or making a cup of tea. If you can achieve that by reading my book or listening that’s great. That’s my role in life done.

[TR in conversation with TG]
What has traveling taught you about yourself?
I’m a better person than I often think I am. Not so much now than I used to. I’m funny, I’m fairly kind for the most part. I’m inpatient… I’m still working on that.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Reallly? See I thought that goes hand in hand. Like patience, that’s one of the things that I think to be successful, you have to be patient. You obviously seem like you’ve been successful so… why do you say you’re impatient.

TG:
Well I think I’ve learned to be patient waiting for buses and planes, but I still find myself impatient with people some times. People let you down they don’t do things you think they’re going to do. I suppose I just want to do things and go places… I’m still in a rush. I have slowed down a lot an awful lot

TR:
Slow down? Maybe…

Tony’s working on securing the appropriate documentation for
a trip to Lebanon & Iraq.
In fact, while editing this story Tony and his girlfriend are
preparing for their trip to Russia.

TG:
European Russia so Saatchi (where they heldthe Winter Olympics)… eventually over to Moscow and St. Petersburg.
We’ll do that for a month and that will be fun that will be a challenge. No English, long train journeys cold weather . My theory is we just take bottles of Vodka and we’ll make friends easily.
TR:
Both of Tony’s books, Seeing the World My Way and
Seeing the Americas are available in EBook format from
various distributors and in Braille from the RNIB.

He’s interested in having the book recorded by the National Library for
the Blind here in the states.

For more on Tony Giles

TG:
My website blog is Tony the Traveller.com with two l’s in traveller.My Facebook page is Tony the Traveller and I have my own YouTube page. Or you can just search for my name, Tony Giles. And you can the BBC travel show.

TR:
If this topic of travel and exploration interests you as much as it does me,
let me suggest a couple of past episodes of Reid My Mind Radio.

The Blind Nomad – which profiles
Jim Paradiso and how he ended up living
in Ecuador after he lost his sight and almost his life.

Of course you have the Holman Prize winners series and specifically
my man Ahmet the Blind captain who is preparing to kayak
the Bosphorous Straits from Europe to Asia.

Like Tony mentioned, you don’t have to go to
extremes to find adventure.

may I selfishly recommend listening to this podcast?
Ok, that’s not a bad start but there’s probably other things we can do.

Notice I said we, I’m not being my most adventurous self.
I have a few ideas for some adventures but I’ll keep those close to me for now.

When I do move forward on any, you can be sure of a few things;
I’m taking my microphone and recorder and will bring you along for the trip.
and
[TR in conversation with TG]

Again, I would get a room, I would do a hostel with a room, a nice clean room with a bed not just a mattress. Some blankets, nice pillows – fluffy pillows. {laughs}

Make sure you subscribe to the podcast whether you use Apple Podcast, Google Play, Sound Cloud Stitcher, Tune In… or of course you can come over to Reid My Mind.com to listen,
read the show notes and access any links mentioned in the show or even the transcript.

However you listen, make sure you stay subscribed and tell a friend.
There are so many benefits to doing so;

TG:
That will make life a lot easier both in terms of traveling, working or studying or whatever you want to do and also relationships.

[Reid My Mind Theme Outro]

TR:
Peace!

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio: Chancey Fleet Assisting with More than Technology

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

Returning from a medical leave (see the last episode and post for an update) we resume where we last left off…

We were looking at employment of people with disabilities. Continuing with the theme, today’s episode explores one person’s experience with lessons that are applicable to everyone not only people with disabilities.

Chancey Fleet is the Assistive Technology Coordinator for the Andrew Heiskel Talking Book Library in New York City. We hear all about how she landed that position and how she continues to expand her role while aiding the community.

When you’re done listening make sure you subscribe to the podcast and tell a friend to do the same!

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Today, I’m further exploring the topic of employment of people with disabilities through the experience of one young ladies career. We find out how she made her way into her current position and how she continues to expand it and grow benefiting not only herself and her employer, but the community which she serves.

As usual, I believe there are lessons that go beyond disability, but that’s really up to you the listener to decide.

Before we get into it, you know what I need to do…

[Scratch]
Drop it!
[Reid My mind Radio Theme Music]

TR:
[City Sounds]

If you walk across 20th street In New York City, between 5th and 6th Ave tucked in among the various commercial buildings is a library

TR in conversation with CF:
Andrew Haskell? Heiskel?

CF:
Andrew Haskell.
So here’s the thing . The technically correct pronunciation is Andrew Heiskel, but when you say it correctly you suddenly have a ton of people looking for the high school.

TR in conversation with CF:
[Laughs…]

CF:
So there’s just this wave of convenient wrongness where we all kind of say Andrew Haskell now, but you can avoid all of that by just remembering our web address which is talkingbooks.nypl.org, nice and easy.

We’re kind of two libraries in one. We are a full brand of the NYPL which means this is a place where all types of members of the community come to pick up their holds pick up their books and DVD’s. Use the Wi-Fi get some studying done take advantage of our computer labs and gather together.

We got story time for kids, we got programs for teens and adults. Opera concerts creative writing you name it.

The one things that you won’t find in this building that you find in most public libraries is a whole lot of print because as well as being part of the NYPL, we are a sub-regional location for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. And what that means is that we’re also an operations that sends out tons of Braille and audio books by mail and folks could come in and pick those up as well.

TR:
Meet Chancey Fleet. She’s the Assistive Technology Coordinator at that library.

Chancey says to her knowledge she is the first Assistive Technology Coordinator for the library.

While working as an Assistive Technology Trainer in a Vocational Rehabilitation Agency she became frustrated when she was unable to assist those who weren’t eligible for services.
CF:
sometimes the consumer would have a question about Twitter or Facebook or taking pictures outside and I would be dying to answer it but I would know that that was just outside of my scope of work. and it would need to just stay that way. And at the same time folks would come up to me knowing me from activism from outside of the place where I worked and they’d need help with computers and technology and if they were undocumented or they were homemakers or retired or happily employed or had vision issues or print issues that didn’t add up to legal blindness they wouldn’t be eligible to come see me. And all of that started to feel a little limiting and a little frustrating and I guess I started to think about why we have the structures that we have. And I think the structures that we have are great a lot of the time and I would never want to see them replaced but sometimes we need more than one way to do things.

TR:
In 2010 Chancey found that other way at the library. She approached the leadership at the Andrew Heiskel library and asked if she and some friends could offer a free computer clinic on Saturdays. And by free she meant F R E E, free…

CF:
Free one on one instruction. Free of eligibility, requirements, free of paperwork and free of charge at the library.

And we started out with just three or four volunteers. I was one of them,
my friend Nihal my friend Walei and lots of other folks joined us over the years.

we got the information into the library newsletter and quietly , slowly it started to take off.

What we do is totally peer supported, informal learning. So we’ll never replace comprehensive training right. Just like you wouldn’t go to the library to take a Chemistry class, but you might come to the library to get help on some specific Chemistry problem or finding a study group or finding the right resources. We do kind of the same thing.

TR:
The assistance includes some real world challenges related to vision loss.

CF:

I think one of the scariest or daunting things about losing your vision or about being blind without access to information is people are telling you things that might be good for you or not all the time and if you have a way to write things down and if you don’t have a way to refer back to things and decide on your schedule when you can sit down and figure out what’s important for you, it can be really overwhelming.

We’re here at the library so we have the digital talking book machines that are totally free of charge and we have flash drives and if nothing else,

if someone is super new to technology and they don’t have a way to write in Braille or write in print we can just record what we do here on a flash drive and they can play it back on the free players at any time. And that’s how we can scaffold them until they can get to that point where they can use their personal technology to take notes.

TR:
What started out in 2010 as a volunteer position offering 3 hours a week grew to the library providing about 150 hours of training a month in 2014.

That volunteer position, became a full time paid position that Chancey was perfectly suited to fill.

CF:
A job posting showed up at the end of 2013 and I was happy to see it. My Saturday’s at the library had become the highlight of my week and I saw an increasing number of volunteers and patrons coming to learn gathering at the library and really getting important work done in kind of a low key informal setting.

And sometimes the conversation would stray outside the boundaries of technology. and I’d walk in and somebody would be talking about how it is they sort their mail or sort their laundry or what it was like to take the subway for the first time instead of taking Access-A-Ride. And that peer to peer informal learning that might be about technology but touches all sorts of threads of importance in our lives. I thought that was really special and I wanted to see that continue to grow

TR:

It grew into more programming for the city’s blind and visually impaired community. In addition to providing individual help with Braille the, library offers some cool progressive programming. Like a class in photography and videography.
taught by Judy Dixon, Consumer Relations Officer of the NLS.

CF:

So folks learn about composing photos and videos . We learned about perspective and glare and how lighting conditions and distance affects things. And Judy shared with us a bunch of her favorite apps and strategies. We’ve done all sorts of social networking workshops. We’ve done an introduction to coding and electronics with Arduino.

TR:
We covered the Blind Arduino Project and its founder Josh Miele on a past episode which you should really check out.

CF:

So Arduinos are really small portable affordable computers that run essentially one program at a time and you can design your own super accessible tool.

because the components are so affordable and portable and because it’s so widely popular in kind of the mainstream community of makers and enthusiasts there’s a lot of great advice and code samples , kind of like recipes if you will that are out there so that even if you’re a total novice you can find all kinds of online instructions and code to work from and you can find components to do whatever you
may need.

TR:
Chancey and the library teamed up with DIY Ability a midtown Manhattan company offering workshops geared to serving people with disabilities, like
toy hacking workshops that help families retrofit or hack toys to become more accessible for people that have fine motor impairments
workshops teaching people with all different types of disabilities how to code and use electronics.

CF:
So our introductory Arduino workshops we call them “eyes free” or non visual Arduino workshops are a place to learn about the very basics of working with Arduino and working with code in a place where non visual techniques are well respected and well understood.

So it’s a safe space for starting out. It’s a community space for gathering and exchanging ideas and we hope it gives folks a foundation they can build on.

We’ve done that with both youth and adults. And we’re launching now into a program that teaches folks how to come in and use the tactile graphics embosser and tactile graphics design software as well as a 3D printer to create non visual spatial representations of the graphics and objects they need to understand. Things in their work school and leisure lives.

TR:
Chancey’s interest in the accessibility of graphical or visual information began with a request from a library patron.

CF:
Somebody called me and asked me where they could possibly get a map
that related the 5 boroughs of New York City to one another and their water ways. He just moved to New York City and he wanted to get the lay of the land sort of speak.

TR:
For a sighted person, this is an easy task, just launch Google maps or find an old fashioned printed map.
It’s much more challenging to access this information non visually.

Receiving grant funds, the library was able to purchase the necessary equipment. With this the Dimensions Project was off and running.

CF:

our premise is that we will teach community members sighted and Blind alike about some of the fundamental best practices around creating tactile images that are meaningful useful and legible. And then we’ll provide the equipment the space and mentorship that people need to create the images and the 3D objects that they’d like to experience.

TR:

The Dimension Project includes three workshops. Two specifically focusing on working with the equipment and the other on best practices for effective tactile graphics.

CF:

Tactile Tactics, taught by Annie Lease from the Department of Cultural Affairs.

Annie is an artist with low vision who also has a ton of museum education experience and she is no stranger to crafting meaningful and well-rounded tactile experiences for people.

she goes over the basics. For one thing if you’re creating a tactile graphic the first thing that you think about is purpose. Why does the person want it? What information are they hoping to have? So what needs to be on that map?

Annie also talks about scale. She talks about using labeling effectively and kind of introducing people to the graphic once it’s been created – creating the context for it.

It’s been exciting . I kind of designed and got funding for this project and started rolling out the workshops wondering if the community would really respond because at first I would tell library patrons coming in for computer instruction about it and I’d ask them if they would like to be able to make their own images and pictures and maps and they would throw it back at me and say for what? I would throw it back at them and say well what do sighted people use images for? What do sighted people care about? And they would kind of wrap their brains and come up with things.

TR:
One of the most challenging parts of this project is convincing people who didn’t grow up in image rich environments that tactile graphics have something to offer.

Real world examples can prove helpful.

CF:
One of our volunteers has a small business and he had to design a logo for his business. He had certain kind of Values or parameters that he gave to a sighted designer to have his logo designed. And first thing that he wanted to do when he came in and used the tactile graphic software was to find out what his logo actually looked like.

He had hoped that the letters would relate to each other in a certain way and it would kind of imply motion. So that was something that he was already really ready to connect to. I think part of what made that successful is that it was a tactile graphic that was expected.

I think street maps and floor maps are another place where we can start with something that’s familiar. So I think using something that someone already knows both for context and motivation is a powerful thing.

TR:

Available maps include;
* Tactile street maps
* Floor maps of the Heiskel branch – enabling customers to locate computer labs, training and community rooms and more.

* a prototype map of the five boroughs as requested so many years ago.

CF:
I was so happy that we got our first real live request in the fall to reproduce a floor map for the NFB of New York state convention.

We enlisted a sighted volunteer who has graphic design but next to no tactile graphic experience. And we paired her up with a few blind volunteers who don’t have graphic design experience but who have lots of experience with Braille and tactile graphics.

TR:

The collaboration worked well. Chancey and the other volunteers provided valuable input and feedback making the end result a usable map that was distributed to about 30 people.

CF:

I think we are on the edge of a new golden age in tactile literacy. In the same way that two hundred years ago we were on the edge of something spectacular in terms of textual literacy.

Now although we still have trouble convincing folks that Braille’s important and sometimes affording the Brail technology that we need broadly we have better access to texts than ever before thanks to electronic conversion into Braille and even text to speech and we are in a better place with regard to textual literacy than we’ve ever been.

TR:

Chancey speaks of a benefit she has seen in her own life after beginning to think more spatially.

CF:

I’m a person that never took chemistry or physics or calculus and a person that never really engaged to actively with the arts or coding.

And it’s only now that I’m working in the community of support such awesome collaborators across the city and across the country that I feel free to explore

TR:

Creative exploration like origami. And Chancey is now bringing this paper art form to the Talking Book library patrons.

CF:

Origami is paper craft.

origami is using a single sheet of paper or maybe even building lots of different
modules together and using different folds and most to create.

Most of the Origami instructions say hey check out figure E or it’s a totally silent You Tube video that just shows somebody’s hands. And so our Origami club that we’re launching in collaboration with the Origami Therapy Association here in New York here is a chance for Blind folks and say to folks to get together and use really clear descriptive language to explain step by step what you need to do to get to a certain origami model. If you check out YouDescribe.org and search for origami you actually
see some students from San Francisco State Universities TVI Preparation program have put up quite a few Origami instructional videos that are accessible, they all have a descriptive track. So we’re lucky to have them as collaborators as well as a few blind folks around the country help us learn new models and get them into clear descriptive language.

TR:

In a sense, Chancey began preparing for her role at the library at an early age back in Mechanicsville Virginia.

CF:
I went to a mainstream school in the 80’s and my folks always made sure that I had basically equal access to information and one of the most important ways they did that is by pushing for the school system to incorporate technology into my life from an early age. I remember having a Toshiba laptop in the first grade.

I could play text adventure games and I could get my word processing done. And one of the most powerful things that I still remember is that people could write notes to me and I could read over them and I could write out my assignments and send them to a printer which meant that I could get feedback from my teacher without having to wait for the vision teacher to come around and transcribe things.

So I learned really early on that having technology at my fingertips, mainstream technology that everybody could use together was going to be a key that would let me interact directly and not wait on a third party to grant me the access that I need.

TR:
While attending William and Mary College Chancey had the opportunity to work as a peer Access Technology Trainer. Providing one on one training to other Blind and visually impaired individuals.

After graduating with degrees in Sociology and Psychology she felt more connected to Access Technology. A member of the National Federation of the Blind ever since receiving a student scholarship, Chancey began beta testing the first KNFB Reader – an early device to portably scan text to speech.

CF:
Little did I know that one of the times I was at a conference demonstrating , there was a recruiter in the audience from a place called Integration Technologies and the next thing I knew I was flying around the country training Federal employees with disabilities on how to use their tech and that’s kind of how I got my start.

It was fun to fly from office to office and see how lots of different types of people worked. I got to work with transcriptionists, IRS agents, judges, veterans and all kinds of people and it was a great first post college job.

TR:
technology isn’t just a 9 to 5 thing with Chancey.
She says it permeates her life.
Using apps to help her improve her ability to understand and speak Spanish, accessible ways of finding and cooking new recipes,
using GPS apps for travel
these are just examples of technology in her daily life.

She also thinks about the social implications of technology. Like Aira, the glasses and app that are connected to a live attendant who can serve as a blind users virtual eyes. Describing and assisting in navigation at any time. The service begins at about 90 dollars per month.

CF:

Aira is a premium product and it lets us get around a lot of accessibility problems and perhaps giving an accessibility workaround to the folks that are privileged enough to be able to pay for Aira, might not always be a good thing because if I have had my accessibility problem solved by Aira will I take the time to do the boring paper work and the advocacy follow up that’s required to make the bigger accessibility problem that I encounter go away or will I just hitch a ride with Aira and forget about it? I hope I won’t. I hope we can all have a conversation about how we can incorporate these tools into our
lives in a way that doesn’t keep us from being a good community advocates for accessibility that is for everyone.

##
Clearly, Chancey sees the bigger picture when it comes to the purpose of technology. It’s not what the tech does that makes it cool, it’s about how it can impact a person’s life.

CF:
One of my favorite stories is about a young lady that came from Syria and
when she first came to us she came because she wanted to learn to type. She didn’t really have much of a Goal beyond that. In addition to being blind and being newly new to technology she also has a speech impairment. She has a lot of trouble communicating especially with people with people that she doesn’t know or who don’t really slow down to listen to her.
So first she came in very quietly barely said anything and booked lots of time with talking typing teacher. When she finished with that she started to learn to use the Internet. She got a computer from Computers for the Blind, the refurbished computers out of Texas, and slowly she started to talk to us more because she had more specific questions about how to do different things on the internet and her personality started to emerge.

one of the first things that she wanted to do online was go on You Tube and look for makeup tutorials and we did.

Then she got an I Phone And with that I Phone we recommended that she get a Bluetooth keyboard. Fortunately she was able to afford to do that.

I’ll always remember the first big milestone with her. She. Typed out to me in one day hey could I take this keyboard in and type out what I want my doctor to know before I meet with my doctor? And I just like wanted
to do a fist bump like yes that’s exactly what this technology is for. She figured out for herself how it was going to help her. How it was going to empower her.

## That young lady not only continued learning Braille, but she began providing support for others new to technology and is now continuing her education in preparation for entering the workforce.

Looking back on Chancey’s career path a few notable milestones stand out.
There’s the technology experience and that early opportunity to travel and meet a wide array of people with vision loss that seemed to prepare her for her later work. Including serving as one of the first Holman Prize judges.

Chancey says her involvement with the National Federation of the Blind was also instrumental.

I first joined the National Federation of the Blind in two thousand and one and I came in the way that a lot of people do which is that they got me with
a scholarship.

So I came to a convention for a scholarship and I stayed for the philosophy.

it was Carla McCuillan that gave the first banquet speech. She is a pretty distinguished educator – I think she runs a
Montessori school. I remember the energy and I remember her addressing
the low expectations that the public often has for us and you know immediately I connected with that message that that that’s not a normal thing that we can do better for ourselves.

I think the National Federation of the blind is. Pretty unique in the amount of investment and trust that it puts in its ordinary members who become volunteers.

It is one of the greatest ways that I have
found to get work experience while I was waiting for actual work to come along beginning when I was in college.

TR:
It was an earlier volunteer experience working the phones at a women’s crisis shelter that helped Chancey realize a career in Psychology wasn’t for her.

That discovery Chancey says was just another benefit of volunteering.

CF:
It’s a way to develop skills and self-confidence meet people in the community give back but it’s also frankly
sometimes a way to find a job.

TR:

Like I said, lessons in Chancey’s experience once again go beyond disability

If you live in New York City or find yourself visiting head on down to the library and check out all they have to offer.

For more information on services and upcoming workshops visit Talking Books.NYPL.ORG

To reach out to Chancey directly you can find her at @ChanceyFleet on Twitter.

Remember to subscribe to the podcast; Apple Podcast, Google Play Stitcher, Tune In Radio and Sound Cloud.
Tell a friend!

CF:
… and quietly , slowly it started to take off.

[RMMRadio Theme Outro]

TR:
Peace!

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio – Getting Back

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

I didn’t plan to take a break from the podcast, but life happens. I’ll tell you more about that in this episode plus, an update on a RMM Radio Alumni. Finally, a taste of my new podcast with my co host Doctor Dre from MTV, Hot 97 & more.

Resources:

Transcript:

Show the transcript

TR:
What’s up RMMRadio?

This is a different sort of episode.

I wanted to take a little time to give an update on a few things podcast related – which includes some personal updates.

But this is an episode so let’s get it started properly.

[Reid My Mind Radio Theme]

Audio from RMMR Episode featuring Penny Melville – brown
If you’ve been listening to RMM Radio for a little while you hopefully remember, Penny Melville Brown one of the three Holman Prize winners featured here on the podcast in 2017.

She’s the host of Baking Blind. As the winner, she was in the midst of her world tour where she’s cooking with different people in various countries.

Right now I want to ask you all to join me in sending support and get well wishes to Penny who was in a car accident in France. The injuries were pretty severe – enough where she was put into an induced coma for 5 weeks.

[Audio from Penny’s YouTube Channel]

The link to her YouTube video explaining the accident and her latest challenge is on Reid My Mind.com or go on over to Baking Blind in YouTube.

Please give it a watch and send her a tweet or email wishing her well.

Penny, you go ahead do what you do and get better soon! For those who heard your story here on the podcast, they know a bit about your determination and there’s no doubt in my mind at least, you have what it takes to recover from this accident.

In fact I can hear you now…
[Audio from episode – Penny saying “I can do that!”]

Take your time and get well. We need you out there doing your work… Baking Blind!

And you know what I want to hear from you right?

[Audio from episode, Penny laughing]

It’s good to be back recording this podcast.

In fact, that’s the reason I was away… my back!

For the past couple of years I’ve been dealing with a herniated disk. It was becoming more and more debilitating. I found myself spending way too much time in bed because it was too painful to sit and stand. The bed was a very limited source of relief.

I tried, but it’s really challenging to be productive in bed.

You know what I mean! I’m talking about producing audio, writing …

I was nervous yawl! I didn’t want to get surgery but I didn’t want to spend more time in pain not getting anything done.

Well, I bit the bullet and had laser surgery…

[James Brown, “I Feel Good”]]

I have some more recuperating to do but so far I think I’ll be putting on my dancing shoes sooner than even I thought.

I have more Reid My Mind Radio coming up soon.

[Audio from 2BlindMic … Intro]

In addition, I have a new weekly podcast. This time I have a partner. Doctor Dre. Dre. Dre and I met when I interviewed him last year about his experience with vision loss following complications of Diabetes.

Our podcast is called 2BlindMics.

that’s the number 2BlindMics

Check out what we call a 2Byte – a little taste of an episode…

This one is featuring Rodney Carter former NFL running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
we call the full episode first and 10.

[2BlindMIcs…]

Go ahead and subscribe to the podcast.
It’s now available on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher and Tune In.

Remember that’s the number 2 BlindMics

Now, I’ve been sitting too long and need to walk around and stretch this back and these legs… I have some dancing to do!

[RMMRadio Outro]
Peace

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